Day five of the U18 Worlds is about to start here in Sweden. I’ve been in Örnsköldsvik for the past three days but will go back to Umeå for the final two days of the preliminary round.
Here are my thoughts on the games from the past two days. In case you missed my earlier update, here’s a link to it: Prospect Ramblings: First Update from the U18 Worlds (Apr 20).
Latvia vs Russia
This was my first look at Russia in this tournament, and even though they didn’t dominate as much as I had expected, they still played a good game and won 5-1.
Even though they didn’t get any points, I thought Russia’s top line of Arseni Gritsyuk (2019), Yegor Spiridonov (2019) and Yegor Chinakhov (2019) was really good. The two wingers, Gritsyuk and Chinakhov, entered the zone with a lot of speed and always looked for an opportunity to create something offensively. Spiridonov is the two-way center who provides balance to that line but he also showed his great shot again in this game. This forward trio also plays together on Russia’s second power play unit, and they also used Spiridonov and Gritsyuk on the penalty kill.
The second line of Rodion Amirov (2020), Ilya Nikolayev (2019) and Vasili Podkolzin (2019) was excellent as well. Amirov had a goal and an assist while Nikolayev had two assists. One of those Nikolayev’s assists was a real beauty as he entered the zone from the left wing, fought off the defender, and then found defenseman Semyon Chistyakov (2019) with a perfect pass.
Speaking of Chistyakov, he was very noticeable in this game. He threw some big hits and fired a lot of shots – which is nothing new to him, that’s the type of game he playes. Russia played with seven defensemen and Chistyakov was double-shifted because of it. He’s by far their best defenseman in my opinion, so I don’t blame them for having him on the ice as much as possible.
The Russian second line is also kept together for their first power play, and they have Chistyakov on the blue line hammering pucks with his strong one-timer.
Even though Podkolzin was held pointless, he did a lot of good things to allow those scoring situations to happen. And he had a couple of impressive drives to the net. But I thought he focuses a bit too much on defense which limited his effectiveness offensively. He was always the third man down defensively just in case the two forwards lost the puck in the offensive zone. Podkolzin is a very good two-way player but he needs to find that balance where he takes care of his defensive responsibilities but also gets more involved offensively.
Winger Dmitri Sheshin (2019) was another player who impressed me in this game. Even though he’s small (5-8, 143), he isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas and battle against guys who are much bigger than him. He brings a lot of energy and skill to Russia’s third line, is a regular on their penalty kill, plays on Russia’s second power play unit, and he had one goal in this game as well.
Goalie Yaroslav Askarov (2020) wasn’t tested a whole lot in this game but he looked really good.
USA vs Russia
USA made two late additions to their team, adding Trevor Zegras (2019) and Bobby Brink (2019) to the lineup before this game. Both forwards were added to their top-six which created one of the deadliest top-six groups we have ever seen at the U18 Worlds. Zegras was playing left wing with Jack Hughes (2019) and Cole Caufield (2019) while Brink played right wing with Matthew Boldy (2019) and Alex Turcotte (2019). All six are expected to be first-rounders in the NHL Draft this summer, and four of them are expected to be top-ten picks. That’s a ridiculous amount of talent.
Russia got off to a great start as they got a couple of early power plays and scored two goals early on but Team USA absolutely dominated the game the rest of the way. Russia’s goals were scored by Chinakhov, Amirov and Spiridonov. Podkolzin got his first point in the tournament on the Amirov goal, and it was a real beauty. But after the first ten minutes or so, Russia stayed in their own end for most of the game, and the super talents from USA just toyed with the Russian defenders.
Russian goalie Askarov played in back-to-back games and looked great against USA. The US head coach gave him a lot of credit after the game. Askarov was replaced in the middle of the third period but not because of his performance. He was getting attention from the trainer on the bench after it, so he may have just been cramping from all that action he saw in a short period of time.
The top two lines for USA seemed to find instant chemistry which is no surprise because they all have some amount of history with each other. Brink didn’t play with the national team this season but has played with them a bit in the past. Caufield had two goals. Hughes, Boldy and Turcotte had a goal and an assist. Brink and Cam York (2019) had two assists each. And Zegras had one assist. So all of their top guys found their way onto the score sheet, and they all looked great.
After the game, I asked USA’s head coach about the decision to move Boldy to the second power play unit after the addition of Zegras to the top unit.
“Matty’s been at times the guy that does find his way onto to the second unit. But he’s such a key penalty-killer for us when we’re in those spots, so I don’t mind dropping a little bit of his ice time away. And margins are so slim between all those guys’ skill-sets. You feel for the kid because he’s going to be a number one power play guy for a long time at the highest level but this is where our team is at. It’s a reason he wears a letter for us because he’ll do anything to win. He knows that his game really does trend up when he’s playing 5-on-5 and playing a momentum, fast-paced hockey. We’re comfortable with where he’s at, and so is he.”
I also asked if he Zegras was 100% after missing the first two games because of an injury.
“Not 100%. Nobody’s 100% this time of the year, though. But there’s no signs of him shying away from contact or anything like that. I was really impressed with his mental stability in the game.”
I also talked to Turcotte after the game about his role on the power play and asked him if he feels like he gets enough touches on the puck while being the net-front guy.
“I don’t really worry about it. When you have a guy like Jack and Z and Cole on there, they’re all really talented. And Yorkie up top. I don’t really care. As long as we score and win, it’s all that matters to me. And I think we all share the puck enough that we all get enough touches.”
Slovakia vs Sweden
Sweden’s top line of Lucas Raymond (2020), Karl Henriksson (2019) and Alexander Holtz (2020) was great once again. They kept the puck in the offensive zone for long periods of time and created a lot of scoring chances. They only had one goal (scored by Henriksson) but could have easily had more.
Sweden’s number two center Arvid Costmar (2019) didn’t play after early in the second period. After the game, I talked to Sweden’s head coach who informed me Costmar injured his knee and he’s day-to-day. UPDATE: A few hours after posting these ramblings, it was reported Costmar will miss the rest of the tournament because of the injury.
Because of the injury, Sweden put Simon Holmström (2019), Oscar Bjerselius (2019) and Albin Grewe (2019) together for the second line which pushed winger Zion Nybeck (2020) to the third line with Isac Andersson (2019) at center and Elmer Söderblom (2019), who started as the 13th forward, on the other wing.
But that didn’t seem to matter to Nybeck who had two goals in the game. In the first one, he was left wide open on the offensive blue line, and he fired a great shot to beat the goalie. And then late in the game, he intercepted a pass from the goalie and put it into the empty net while shorthanded.
Sweden’s head coach said he liked those lines, so if Costmar is unable to play in the next game, I would expect them to keep those lines.
Sweden’s top defenders had great games as well. Philip Broberg (2019) had three assists in the game, and one of those assists came off an excellent rush where his great speed was clearly visible.
But it was Victor Söderström (2019) who was voted as the best player in the game despite having just one assist. I asked Sweden’s head coach about Söderström’s tournament so far.
“He looks more and more comfortable because Brynäs quit playing quite early. And now he has four games total. He looks like he’s going better, better and better. I mean, he’s a very talented defenseman and today I think was his best game so far.”
I talked to Söderström himself after the game as well and asked him his thoughts on the game.
“I think we had a good game. I think we controlled the whole game. I think we’re getting better each game, every player is getting better each game.”
I’ll save most of the material from the Söderström interview for an upcoming Deep Dive article, though. But his English is absolutely perfect and he seemed like a great guy.
Tobias Björnfot (2019) had a really good game as well, flashing more offensive skill than many expected from him. I asked Sweden’s head coach about the decision to put Björnfot on the top power play unit over guys like Söderström and Broberg.
“Because Tobbe has played with those guys all tournaments and did very well, so he fits in there. He was very successful in Sochi in the last tournament.”
I also asked Sweden’s head coach about Albert Lyckåsen (2019) who has been their seventh defenseman all tournament long and hasn’t seen any ice time. He said they wanted to play with six defensemen but also said Lyckåsen will likely see some shifts in the game against Russia.
Goalie Jesper Wallstedt (2021) got the start which was a surprise because everyone expected Hugo Alnefelt (2019) to be in net for Sweden. After the game, Sweden’s head coach confirmed Alnefelt had a flu and couldn’t play. But Wallstedt had a great game and he’s definitely capable of playing more games in this tournament if needed.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
Main picture courtesy of IIHF.com